Kaddish, a Memorial Prayer in Praise of God

The Kaddish is recited in a prayer service, on a daily or weekly basis, after the death of a close relative.

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"I believe that the elimination of women from such duties was never intended by our law and custom--women were freed from positive duties when they could not perform them [because of family responsibilities] but not when they could. It was never intended that, if they could perform them, their performance of them should not be considered as valuable and valid as when one of the male sex performed them."

Kaddish is recited every day during the morning, afternoon, and evening services. Ideally, one should attend every service, but if one cannot do so, it is desirable to attend at least one of the three daily services. In the observance of Kaddish, as in most areas of Jewish life, something is better than nothing. If it is impossible to attend a daily service, then one should at least say the Kaddish on the Sabbath.

In the case of the death of a sibling, a child, or a spouse, Kaddish is recited for one month; when a parent dies, it is recited for 11 months. The reason the Kaddish is said for 11 months, although the full mourning period lasts for 12, has to do with folklore. According to a statement in the Talmud, when the most wicked people die, they are consigned to hell for a maximum of 12 months. Since recitation of the Kaddish is believed to help elevate the soul of the dead (see Sanhedrin 104a), reciting it for a full year would imply that one's parent is one of those wicked people sentenced to a full year in hell; hence, the Kaddish is recited for only 11 months.

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Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of Jewish Literacy and Words that Hurt, Words that Heal, along with other widely-read books on Judaism and the "Rabbi Daniel Winter" murder mysteries. He lives in New York City and lectures widely throughout North America.